The I Ching and Computer Binary Code

“I wonder whether, perhaps without realizing it, we seek out the books we need to read. Or whether books themselves, which are intelligent entities, detect their readers and catch their eye. In the end, every book is the I Ching. You pick it up, open it, and there it is, there you are.”
― Andrés Neuman

“The situations depicted in the Book of Changes are the primary data of life -- what happens to everybody, every day, and what is simple and easy to understand.”
― Hellmut Wilhelm, Understanding the I Ching

One Mind there is. ... We did not fall because of a moral error; we fell because of an intellectual error: that of taking the phenomenal world as real. ... The phenomenal world does not exist; it is a hypostasis of the information processed by the Mind. We hypostatize information into objects. ... The changing information which we experience as world is an unfolding narrative. ... Thoughts of the [Mind] are experienced by us as arrangements and rearrangements—change—in a physical universe. ... But we cannot read the patterns of arrangement; we cannot extract the information in it. ... The linking and relinking of objects by the [Mind] is actually a language, but not a language like ours (since it is addressing itself and not someone or something outside itself). ... This is a language which we have lost the ability to read. Philip K. Dick, Valis


Shao Yong (1011-1077), also called Shao Kangjie, was a Chinese philosopher active during the Song Dynasty. He believed that the most basic level of reality was mathematical, an observation that contributed to his “observing plum blossoms” method of prediction, which is also known as the image-number method. This method takes into account all the factors in a given environment, including oneself, and seeks to decipher them just as one might decipher the different elements of a given dream.

Not every moment is capable of being analyzed this way—just as only some of one’s dreams strike one as particularly meaningful. Moments that can be productively analyzed are usually signaled by a person being asked a question or by a question suddenly occurring to them. Such moments can also be signaled by sudden and often dramatic occurrences or coincidences that intuitively strike one as omens. The name “observing plums” method in fact stems from such an intuitively meaningful moment. The story goes that Shao Yong was admiring a clutch of plum blossoms when he witnessed two birds fighting over a branch. The birds’ struggle eventually caused them to plummet to earth. Just as they hit the ground, Shao Yong realized two things:

1*The moment was an important one in which something divine was trying to communicate with him via using the things of the material world as a kind of language—just as the Chinese language communicates through strings of ideograms.

2*Everything that exists corresponds to some number and Shao Yong could interpret this divine language if he made use of this fact.

With these things in mind, Shao Yong immediately began to assign numbers to the different elements involved in the scene he’d just witnessed: including the two birds, the day of the month, the time of the day, and the color of the sky. He then combined these numbers through addition and subtraction. This yielded a sum. He matched this sum to one of sixty-four hexagrams (each made of six stacks of broken or unbroken lines that correspond to either yin or yang energy) in The Book of Changes, also known as the I Ching—a book of divination regarded as one of the five Chinese classics. After analyzing the matching hexagram, Shao Yong predicted that the next night a strange woman would pass by the garden and pick a flower. This would cause the gardener to chase her and cause her to trip and injure her leg. His prediction came true.

While the modern mind understandably has trouble accepting many of concepts in this anecdote, the eighteenth-century German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz credited Shao Yong’s mathematical ideas with his development of a binary arithmetic that later served as the basis of binary computer code. Like Shao Yong, Leibniz thought that the key to understanding reality lay in understanding its basic mathematical nature. Thus he argued that all things that exist can be represented as ones and zeros (just as Shao Yong saw everything as made up of combinations of yin or yang energy).

Ultimately, both computer code and Shao Yong’s I Ching method generate predictions via reducing complex ideas and phenomena to binary sequences. The Shao Yong method uses the binary code of yin and yang energy—represented by the stacked, broken or unbroken lines that make up hexagrams—while computers use the binary code of 0’s and 1’s. One could therefore profitably think of the I Ching as a kind of ancient computer in a book or, conversely, of the computer as a kind of modern divination manual—at least when it comes to predictive modelling.

To quote the philosopher Zhuangzi: “If we see things solely in terms of their difference then even our inner organs are as distant from one another as the states of Chu and Yu. But if we see things from the point of view of their interconnection, then all things are one.”-



Post author: John Yu Branscum